When Microsoft released their original Surface tablet last year, I was intrigued. A product that not only competes with tablets such as Apple’s iPad, but also can compete with full-sized Windows laptops. It showcased Microsoft’s new Metro UI in a way that didn’t invoke criticism (like it did on desktops and other PCs), the hardware was top-notch, it came with Microsoft Office installed, it allowed the use of flash drives, expandable storage, wireless printers, and other peripherals, and everything just made sense. This was a product coming from Microsoft – generally a software-only company – that, on paper, was beating Apple’s iPad.
However, after just a few months on the market, it was clear that Microsoft’s Surface wasn’t doing so well. Microsoft slashed the starting price from $499 to $349 in August 2013, and allowed customers to bundle a Touch Cover for just $50 extra. Even with this price drop, Microsoft still had a hard time pushing units and ended up reporting $900 million in losses because of the Surface RT project.
About a month ago, there was an eBay seller offering Microsoft-refurbished Surface RT tablets for just $199 – and it included a Touch Cover! I couldn’t resist the deal, so I ended up purchasing one hoping that it could replace my 15-inch, bulky laptop that I carry around school. After just one week, however, I ended up sending the Surface back for a refund. I loved the hardware (it rivaled even Apple’s craftsmanship), it was powerful enough to be a full-time hybrid tablet-laptop for school, and the capabilities were great compared to what an iPad can do, but even for $199 I didn’t like my Surface. And now that Microsoft has announced updated models of both the Surface RT and Surface Pro, I can say with some confidence that both are going to fail all over again.
They’re Too Expensive
The Surface 2 (Microsoft dropped “RT” from the name) is going to cost $449 at launch and the Surface Pro 2 is going to cost $899. I know Microsoft needs to make a profit, but these prices are just too expensive for any casual consumer to want them. At $449, the regular Surface 2 is put in a price bracket with Apple’s iPad. But with all the problems I am about to mention, one would be insane to buy a Surface over an iPad. Even the Surface Pro 2 which is a more sophisticated, laptop-like product is too expensive. At $899, this competes with Apple’s MacBook Air and other high-end laptops. Most laptops in this price range are far more practical as an every-day computer, and in the case of the MacBook Air, equally as portable.
It’s Windows, But Not Really
The most appealing feature of both the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 is that they run Windows 8.1. The Pro version runs standard 8.1, but the regular Surface 2 will be running Windows 8.1 RT – the stripped-down version for tablets. When I used my Surface RT, being able to compose an English paper with Microsoft Word, print it out on my wireless printer, and submit it to TurnItIn.com all on a tablet PC was a bit impressive. Comparable Android and iOS tablets have wireless printing features, but they don’t work seamlessly with every printer. Also, I’ve never found the iPad version of iWork to feel as capable as a desktop word processor, but Office on Windows RT is exactly the same as the version on my laptop. And finally, the fact that Windows RT has a file manager makes it much more appealing for me both as a blogger and as a college student because that means I can do “real” work. Yes, Apple claim that file managers are obsolete, but I need them to email files to professors, upload files and images to WordPress, and do anything else that involves creating content. Because even Windows RT has this, it makes it more appealing than Android or iOS tablets.
The big problem with Windows RT, however, is that it can’t run standard .exe Windows applications. Even simple programs such as Dropbox can only be installed through Microsoft’s built-in Windows 8 App Store, so it’s very limiting. What was just a device capable of replacing a laptop as a full-time computer just became a $449 Internet-browsing device.
I do believe the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is a great product, but it is terribly overpriced. The Pro version can indeed run .exe Windows applications, it comes with Microsoft Office, and it is a capable tablet that could potentially replace a laptop. But I have to ask: why would you want to replace a $400 laptop with a 10-inch tablet? The average Windows laptop is only about $400 and Apple’s cheapest MacBook Air is $999. At $899 for the Surface Pro 2, it seems silly to spend twice what a full-feature, 13 to 15-inch Windows laptop costs for essentially a small touch-screen tablet-laptop convertible. Not only does it seem silly – it is – and that’s why the original Surface tablets failed.
If Microsoft really wants to see their Surface line do well, they should price the Surface 2 at $299 and the Surface Pro 2 at $599. As a consumer, I can’t justify paying ridiculous prices for what is essentially designed to replace my laptop. If they offered an app ecosystem like Android and iOS, maybe I’d consider it, but they don’t. The Surface 2 is good for browsing the Internet and using Microsoft Office RT and the Surface Pro 2 is basically designed to replace my laptop because it’s more portable. Unless Microsoft makes changes to their pricing structure and capabilities of Windows RT, the Surface line will continue to fail.